What The ‘Strongmen’ Of History Reveal About Modern Politics – Ruth Ben-Ghiat – On Point – NPR CT

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What The ‘Strongmen’ Of History Reveal About Modern Politics

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat studies authoritarian regimes, like Italy under Mussolini. Can a democracy pry itself out of a strongman’s grip?

Source: On Point

David Lindsay: I just heard part of this radio interview of Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat. She points out that Trump is not weak, but very good, at undermining our democracy. He was never trying to be a good democratic leader. All of his nonsense have been out of the playbooks of strong men, who took over their Democracies, and sometimes ended them. All his lies and chaos have left him with 70 million fanatic, almost cult followers. He will be a great danger to our democracy in the next 70 days, and if we do not take steps to contain him, he will run again in 4 years.

My arguments to a friend and Trump Supporter on why to support Biden – by David Lindsay – Inconvenient News.net

11.02.2020

I played tennis this early morning with Mr. Migs, and since the election is tomorrow, I asked him if he did his homework. No he said, but he might tonight. Since he voted for Trump four years ago, and plans to vote for him again tomorrow, I had asked him to watch just the first 20 minutes of the first debate between Trump and Biden. He agreed to do this, but hasn’t.  Migs said he decided during the second debate between Al Gore and George W Bush, that because Gore made faces of condescension while Bush was talking, he realized that he could never vote for Gore, and therefore his vote went to Bush. The fact that Migs was an engineer for an oil company probably had more to bear on his world view than he admits.

Migs usually beats me 6-1, 6-0, but today was headed towards one of those 6-0, 6-0 days, and I decided to make my case for Biden. I mentioned that Trump was un-presidential, and damaging to our society, when he declared things that weren’t true, such as his recent tweet, that Obama ordered the 6 navy seals who supposedly killed Osama Bin Laden,  killed themselves, to hide the fact that they had not assassinated Bin Laden, but had in fact killed a body double instead. After that comment, Migs served a ball hard as he could toward my stomach, so all I could do was bounce it defensively into the netting between the indoor courts. I mentioned the powerful op-ed in the NYT on Sunday by Roger Cohen, who described how Trump was undoing all of our alliances that we forged after winning WW II, and that the great peace, or the Pax Americana, was coming to a dangerous end.

I asked him if he knew why Trump was impeached, and he said he didn’t know or remember. I reminded him that President Trump told the president of the Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, that the $400 Million in military aid for their hot war with Russia would be held up, unless he did Trump a favor, and announced an investigation into the corruption of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, regarding their relationships with the Burisma Gas Company.  After hemming and hawing, the young president of Ukraine finally agreed to do so, but one of the various American analysts listening in on the call reported the crime to the Justice department anonymously, under the whistle blower act. Trump had essentially committed a form of treason, by hurting the US policy to aid Ukraine in their war with Russia, unless they agreed to try and besmirch one of Trump’s expected political rivals.

I lost another hard fought game. Migs was hitting so hard, I couldn’t drive his cross court ball down the line, and keep it inside the court.  Did he know of one, Jamal Khashoggi.  No he didn’t. I explained that Khashoggi was a journalist in Saudi Arabia, who after criticizing the royal family, had to flee to the US, where he became a writer for the Washington Post, and grew more vocal in criticizing the house of Saud. While back in the middle east, he went to a Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, to get the papers to legally marry his fiancé, but he was apprehended by about 12 Saudi agents, and never heard from again.  A security film showed a man in his clothes left the building,  but it wasn’t him. The Turkish Government produced a sound tape of his torture and dismemberment by small bone saws. He was apparently packed into a small suitcase for disposal. The point, I mentioned, was that Trump refused to criticize the Saudis, and he sent a message to the world that as far as his administration was concerned, it was OK to murder journalists.

And lastly, I reminded Migs of a story I’d related months earlier, of how Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asked Trump to remove his  500 American soldiers from northern Syria, which he did, at Erdogan’s request, leaving our Kurdish and Syrian allies in that part of Syria unprotected. These were the fighters who had fought and over ten years had defeated ISIS with our support. The Kurds were the most democratic forces in the region. After the withdrawal, the airforces of Syria, Turkey and Russia bombed our Kurdish and northern Syria militia allies back into the stone age. It was a bloodbath, targeting schools, hospitals and mosques. It appeared that Trump was working for Putin of Russia, not for the American people. This was treason on a tragic scale. The American military leadership was caught off guard, shamed and embarrassed.

Migs, said, stop worrying, Trump has no chance, he will lose. I agreed that he was probably right.  I pointed out though, that Jeff Greenfield was on the PBS Newshour last night reporting that one forecasting group says that Biden will have to win by at least 6 percentage points, to also win the electoral college. We set our next time to play, and left each other in peace to start the work day.

Opinion | Who’s the Tax Cheat: The Lady in Jdonaldail or the Man in the White House? – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Douglas Healey for The New York Times

“While reading that President Trump had claimed $70,000 in highly dubious tax deductions for hair styling for his television show, I kept thinking about a homeless African-American woman named Tanya McDowell who was imprisoned for misleading officials to get her young son into a better school district.

McDowell was sentenced to five years in prison in 2012, in part for drug offenses and in part for “larceny” because she had claimed her babysitter’s address so her son could attend a better school in Connecticut.

In some sense both Trump and McDowell appear to have cheated on their taxes. McDowell sent her son to a school district without paying taxes there. And according to The Times’s extraordinary reporting, Trump may have illegitimately claimed a $72.9 million refund that the I.R.S. is now trying to recover.

In addition, my ace Times colleague James B. Stewart reported that hair styling is not a deductible expense and that, in any case, Trump’s hair expenses for his “Apprentice” TV shows should have been reimbursed by NBC — in which case Trump may have committed criminal tax fraud.

Credit…Rose M. Prouser/CNN, via Reuters

The bottom line: We imprisoned the homeless tax cheat for trying to get her son a decent education, and we elevated the self-entitled rich guy with an army of lawyers and accountants so that he could monetize the White House as well. (Sure enough, Trump properties then charged the Secret Service enormous sums for hotel rooms and other fees while agents were protecting Trump.)

The larger point is not that Trump is a con artist, although he is, but that the entire tax system is a con. The proper reaction to the revelations about Trump’s taxes is not to fume at the president — although that’s merited — but to demand far-reaching changes in the tax code.

We interrupt this column for a quiz question: What county in the United States has the highest rate of tax audits?

The answer is Humphreys County in rural Mississippi, where three-quarters of the population is Black and more than one-third lives below the poverty line, according to ProPublica and Tax Notes. Tax collectors go after Humphreys County, where the median annual household income is $28,500, because the government targets audits on poor families using the earned-income tax credit, an antipoverty program, rather than on real estate tycoons who pay their daughters (that’s you, Ivanka!) questionable consulting fees to reduce taxes.

The five counties with the highest audit rates in the United States, according to Tax Notes, are all predominately African-American counties in the South.

Meanwhile, zillionaires claim enormous tax deductions for donating expensive art to their own private “museums” located on their own property. That’s the kind of scam that works if you’re a billionaire, but not so well if you’re my old friend Mike, who is homeless and once gave his food stamp card to a friend to buy groceries for him. The government responded by suspending Mike’s food stamps.

Tax cheats thrive because Congress has slashed the I.R.S. budget, so that the risk of audits for people earning more than $1 million per year plunged by 81 percent from 2011 to 2019. The I.R.S. has opened audits on only 0.03 percent of returns reporting income of more than $10 million in 2018 (that percentage probably will rise), according to the Center for American Progress.

Need more evidence of systemic unfairness? Trump is still holding on to the almost $73 million that he appears to have bilked out of the I.R.S. a decade ago, even though the I.R.S. is contesting his maneuvers. For wealthy people like Trump, taxes become something like a long negotiation.

An undocumented immigrant housekeeper who had worked for the Trump Organization posted tax statements on Twitter showing that she had paid more federal income taxes than Trump himself had in many years. And by one estimate, the failure of wealthy Americans to pay their fair share forces everyone else to pay an extra 15 percent in taxes.

At the same time, almost one-fifth of American families with children report that they can’t afford to give their kids enough food.

A starting point for a fairer system would be auditing the wealthy as aggressively as impoverished Black workers in rural Mississippi. The economists Natasha Sarin and Lawrence Summers estimate that 70 percent of tax underpayment is by the top 1 percent and conclude that tougher enforcement by the I.R.S. could raise $1 trillion over a decade.

Investing in the I.R.S. to go after rich tax cheats not only promotes fairness but also pays for itself: Each additional dollar spent on enforcement brings in about $24.

Remember Leona Helmsley, the wealthy hotel owner who was prosecuted for cheating on her taxes? She sadly had a point when she reportedly scoffed: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

On the bright side, Helmsley ended up in prison. I generally believe that in America we over-incarcerate, but I’m appalled that we treat a man with a gilded life and $70,000 in hair styling deductions more gently than a mom who cheats to try to give her son a better future.”   -30-

Opinion | Wish a President Well Who Doesn’t Wish You Well – By Bret Stephens – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

” “Any mans death diminishes me,” wrote John Donne, “because I am involved in Mankinde.” With that thought, let us all wish Donald Trump a full and speedy recovery from his bout of Covid-19.

We wish him well because, even, or especially, in our hyperpolitical age, some things must be beyond politics. When everything is political, nothing is sacred — starting with human life. It’s a point the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century understood well.

We wish him well because the sudden death of any president is a traumatic national event that will inevitably animate every crackpot in the country. If the term “grassy knoll” still means something in America, just imagine the reaction in the QAnon world if Trump’s condition were to abruptly deteriorate after his stay at Walter Reed.

We wish him well because of Mike Pence.

We wish him well because, even as he tweets “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he could still serve as a living witness to the fact that if you stick a lot of maskless people close together you are likely to spread the virus, as it has to more than a dozen people, and counting, in his circle. Courage, says Aristotle, is the mean between rashness and cowardice. Trump may still be rash, but his followers don’t need to be.”

Opinion | Trump Calls on Extremists to ‘Stand By’ – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

President Trump didn’t hurt Joe Biden in Tuesday’s debate, but he badly damaged our country.

“Trump harmed the United States in three ways, reminding us that the biggest threat to America comes not from desperate migrants, not from “socialists” seeking universal health care and not from “anarchists” in the streets — but from the White House itself.

The first way in which Trump damaged the country was in his salute to violent extremists.

“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists?” Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor who moderated the debate, asked Trump. Trump initially dodged the question but finally asked petulantly, “Who do you want me to condemn?”

Biden suggested the Proud Boys, a militant group that is fervently pro-Trump.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump declared.

Stand by?

The Proud Boys, founded in 2016, are part of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a fascistic right-wing political bloc.” The Anti-Defamation League compares it to a gang. The Proud Boys’ founder once said, “I cannot recommend violence enough,” and its members have brandished guns, committed criminal assaults and engaged in rioting. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have banned Proud Boys.”

Editorial | A Debate That Can’t Be Ignored – The New York Times

By 

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“All Americans, whatever their political inclinations, should make time to watch Tuesday night’s presidential debate, and every minute of the two forthcoming debates.

President Trump’s performance on the debate stage was a national disgrace. His refusal to condemn white supremacists, or to pledge that he will accept the results of the election, betrayed the people who entrusted him with the highest office in the land. Every American has a responsibility to look and listen and take the full measure of the man. Ignorance can no longer be a tenable excuse. Conservatives in pursuit of long-cherished policy goals can no longer avoid the reality that Mr. Trump is vandalizing the principles and integrity of our democracy.

It’s a tired frame, but consider how Americans would judge a foreign election where the incumbent president scorned the democratic process as a fraud and called on an armed, violent, white supremacist group to “stand by” to engage with his political rivals.

The debate was excruciating to watch for anyone who loves this country, because of the mirror it held up to the United States in 2020: a nation unmoored from whatever was left of its civil political traditions, awash in conspiratorial disinformation, incapable of agreeing on what is true and what are lies, paralyzed by the horror of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and beholden to a political system that doesn’t reflect the majority of the country.

After five years of conditioning, the president’s ceaseless lies, insults and abuse were no less breathtaking to behold. Mr. Trump doesn’t care if you think he’s corrupt, incompetent and self-centered. He just wants you to think everyone else is just as bad, and that he’s the only one brave enough to tell it to you straight. It is an effort to dull Americans’ sense of right and wrong, making them question reality itself and, eventually, driving them to tune out.

Yet there was a new sense of desperation in Mr. Trump’s performance. He knows, as most observers do, that he is on track to lose the election. His solution to that predicament is not to reach out to more voters, like a normal president would.

Instead he spent the debate as he has spent the past several months: claiming the election will not be legitimate unless he wins. This threat to the democratic process is no less real because it is a threat made in public.

At one point the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, asked Mr. Trump if he was willing to condemn the white supremacists and right-wing militants who have grown emboldened under his administration — specifically, a group called the Proud Boys who have been involved in numerous street fights in the past few years. (“We will kill you. That’s the Proud Boys in a nutshell,” their founder said.)

It was the slowest, fattest softball a president could be tossed. Once again, Mr. Trump whiffed. “Proud Boys?” Mr. Trump said. “Stand back and stand by,” before pivoting to accuse left-wing agitators of being the true threat. (False, according to the F.B.I.)

The campaign tried to walk back the “stand by” comment on Wednesday, but a different message had already been received: “This makes me so happy,” one Proud Boy wrote in an online forum. “Well sir! We’re ready!!”

Mr. Wallace later asked both candidates to commit to respect the outcome of the election. The fact that such a promise needed to be extracted in the first place is alarming. More ominous was that only one candidate, Joe Biden, agreed to it. Mr. Trump used the opportunity to warn of a “fraudulent election,” falsely claiming that mail-in ballots would be corrupted — again, despite his own F.B.I. saying there is no evidence of any fraud in mail ballots. Undeterred, Mr. Trump called on his supporters to “go into the poll and watch very carefully” — in other words, to intimidate voters in areas where Mr. Biden is likely to draw more support.

Should all else fail, Mr. Trump said that the election will be decided by the Supreme Court — which will most likely have a full complement of nine members by Election Day. The court will “look at the ballots,” Mr. Trump said. It bears repeating that it is not the court’s job to decide the election.

No one handled himself perfectly on Tuesday night. But that acknowledgment is by no means an equivalence. Mr. Biden exhibited remarkable restraint given Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to actually debate.

As the dust settled, there were calls for Mr. Biden to skip the rest of the debates. That is an understandable reaction; Mr. Trump’s behavior makes it essentially impossible to have a civil, substantive conversation.

But that is the exact opposite of what needs to happen. Mr. Biden will show up for all of the remaining debates, and Americans should too. Donald Trump is their president. They need to face him, and the reckoning he has brought on the Republic.

Most of all, they need to vote. In person, by mail — however they can, and as soon as they can. Mr. Trump wants Americans to be either too disgusted or too afraid to cast their ballots. Throughout the nation’s history, tens of millions of Americans have been made to feel this way. They never gave up the fight for a fairer and freer democracy. Neither should Americans today. The best response to a would-be autocrat like Donald Trump, and the only way to begin to extricate the country from this long nightmare, is to show up and be counted.”

With Cross Talk, Lies and Mockery, Trump Tramples Decorum in Debate With Biden – By Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — The first presidential debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. unraveled into an ugly melee Tuesday, as Mr. Trump hectored and interrupted Mr. Biden nearly every time he spoke and the former vice president denounced the president as a “clown” and told him to “shut up.”

In a chaotic, 90-minute back-and-forth, the two major party nominees expressed a level of acrid contempt for each other unheard-of in modern American politics.

Mr. Trump, trailing in the polls and urgently hoping to revive his campaign, was plainly attempting to be the aggressor. But he interjected so insistently that Mr. Biden could scarcely answer the questions posed to him, forcing the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, to repeatedly urge the president to let his opponent speak.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NY Times comment:
Thank you Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns for this excellent summary of a stomach turning debacle of a debate. My partner and I discussed the debate while walking off outside the knots in our stomachs. I thought that in any future debates, the moderator needs a partner, who can turn off the mic of any candidate abusing the rules of the debate. Future debates should have timed response times after each two minute solo, with mic control on duty to allow both sides to speak without interruption. I thought Biden could have done much better, if he had held his adult silence during Trump’s two minutes of insults and lies.
My girlfriend disagrees. “Hermione,” as I like to call her, thought Biden had to interrupt back, to show that he could not be rolled over. In the next debate, she thought he could remain silent, since he proved today he could counter punch with the bully. I remain with my opinion that Biden could have interrupted less last night, though always in revenge, and one commenter apparently agrees, who wrote, a stronger debater like Bill Clinton might have increased his lead by ten points.
My last point is that we should not cancel the next two debates until we see how the public through polling reacts to this first one. I predict that Trump hurt himself with plenty of voters last night, while Biden survived a public mugging, and made some important points well.

Opinion | Donald Trump, Joe Biden and the Vote of the Irish – By Shawn McCreesh – The New York Times

By 

Mr. McCreesh is an editorial assistant for the Opinion section.

Credit…Lucas Jackson/Reuters

“In 2016, my vantage point on the donnybrook between Donald and Hillary was an Irish bar in Queens, where I was a bartender a few nights a week. It was a cash-only joint that sometimes stayed open until 7 a.m. and sold discounted cigarettes driven up from Virginia, the sort of place where you could make $800 under the table but you also might get a bottle or a chair thrown at you. This was where I watched the presidential debates and noticed something interesting. Half the patrons were Irish immigrants who considered Mr. Trump a real “eejit,” but the other half, the Irish Americans, thought he was just grand.

Something didn’t compute. Weren’t the Clintons universally beloved by all with Irish blood? (See “Derry Girls” on Netflix for a sample of the rock star treatment they got after Bill brought peace to Northern Ireland.) It was puzzling to watch the barflies buzz about Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric — a drawbridge mentality from a crowd whose lineage had been met with “Irish Need Not Apply” signs. The craic in the Queens shebeen turned out to be a sudsy microcosm: The green vote has never been more red.

“All those Irish were Democrats for literally hundreds of years,” said James F. McKay III, the president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the largest Irish Catholic organization in the country. “But what is the old saying? When they got the wrinkles out of the belly, they became Republicans.”

No doubt. My own grandfather, one of 12 children raised in a two-bedroom house in County Armagh, sailed to Philadelphia, and cheered when John F. Kennedy became president. Sixty-six years later, some of my grandfather’s children and his brother voted for Donald Trump.”

Opinion | Donald Trump, Unmasked – By Gail Collins and Bret Stephens – The New York Times

“Gail: The most working-class part of Trump’s bio was the time his father made him go around and collect the rent.

Bret: I don’t expect the Biden team to listen to my advice, and I’m not even sure I’d endorse every bit of this in a fantasy Stephens presidency. But the chief parts of the MAMA agenda (“Make America Make Again,”) would include an unprecedented infrastructure plan, worth at least a couple of trillion dollars. A “Made Here”-approach to the supply chain through some combination of insourcing requirements and tax breaks.

Gail: So far we are in accord.

Bret: Steady levels of defense spending, not only to deter foreign adventurism and keep our troops in uniform, but to maintain an important part of our industrial base.

Gail: Never bought into the idea that the best way to help our economy was by juicing up the international arms race.

Bret: A Recovery Authority that makes it quick and simple for businesses to get access to capital, restructure their debts and cut through red tape that is often time-consuming, complex and expensive, especially for small businesses. A National Service option to give younger people locked out of the job market a way to keep busy, make a basic income and contribute to society. Comprehensive immigration reform to give undocumented people a path to citizenship and bring them into the regular economy.

Gail: Looking forward to those things happening so we can argue about the details. But in general I’m with you.

Bret: I know you’re going to say “public option” for health insurance. In normal times I would never endorse it. But if we end up with Depression-era levels of unemployment, even I may warm to some version of the idea.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Wonderfkul conversation, thank you both Gail and Bret. Towards the end you said:
“Gail: Part of it goes back to that mask-wearing. Every time I walk outside I see my neighbors working together, accepting some discomfort for the common good. And almost everyone I talk with — or Zoom with — is thinking about great things to do as soon as we turn a corner.
Bret: Agreed. I hope people are going to find opportunities for self-reinvention, not just in terms of their working life but in the things they value in themselves and others, and in the values they hold dear. For instance, I’m sure many of our readers might gladly envision me stocking shelves at a big-box store, or shrimp fishing like Forrest Gump.”
David Lindsay: This got me excited. What would George Plimton do? If I were younger, and not at risk for being over 65, I would sign up to go get trained to work in a meat packing factory, so that I could describe for the reading public what that environment is like, and what the workers have to put up with, for what appears to be almost minimun wage. Bret, you are young enough, why don’t you try being a meat packer for a month or two! You would have such interesting things to write about!
David blogs at InconvenientNews.net, and is the author of The Tay Son Rebellion about 18th century Vietnam.

Donald Trump’s Worst Deal – By Adam Davidson – The New Yorker

The New Yorker magazine article “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal” – By Adam Davidson ends:

“Senator Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, who is the ranking Democratic member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, said, in an e-mail, that a federal investigation was warranted: “The Trump Organization’s Baku project shows the lack of ‘extreme vetting’ Mr. Trump applied to his own business dealings in corruption-plagued regimes around the globe. . . . Congress—and the Trump Administration itself—has a duty to examine whether the President or his family is exposed to terrorist financing, sanctions, money laundering, and other imprudent associations through their business holdings and connections.

”More than a dozen lawyers with experience in F.C.P.A. prosecution expressed surprise at the Trump Organization’s seemingly lax approach to vetting its foreign partners. But, when I asked a former Trump Organization executive if the Baku deal had seemed unusual, he lau ghed. “No deal there seems unusual, as long as a check is attached,” he said. ”  ♦

Source: Donald Trump’s Worst Deal – The New Yorker